Friday, September 11, 2009

About That Wine I Gave You

Dear Terri,

I cannot find the words (nor the energy after two weeks of non-stop harvesting & pressing) to express our gratitude for the magnificent dinner Labor Day evening. How is it that the Bull-In-The-China-Shop was so well behaved? That Blue-Merle winemaking sheepdog with the barking voice who loves to talk, whom you recklessly invited despite my warnings, was gentler than a lamb. Was he merely exhausted after herding the pickers in the vineyard, or, as I suspect, do you have powers to sooth the savage beast including the mighty Bluey?

Labor Day is aptly named for the endeavors we undertake that day each year, a tradition started in 2004. Not a holiday, but rather the day we work the hardest, making wine by hand and paw. Somehow, we managed to finish pressing the wine skins in the early afternoon on Monday (we usually finish around midnight) and were exhausted and hungry when we arrived. Our spirits were brightened when we saw the antique Carolina-Blue trim of your lovely home and the wooden pergolas framing a gazebo. I dream about that same shade of blue at the Blue-Merle Winery, and we also have dreams of a gazebo looking out across the vineyard towards the Pacific Ocean, Catalina Island and Japan. The land is cleared, but there is no time to build . Another project in waiting. I was wondering, may we put you in charge of painting the blue trim around the place and constructing the gazebo? Do you work for wine? The meal and company were wonderful and by the time we left we were well nourished and recharged for another week, which has ended with the pressing of yet more wine.

About that wine I gave you, three bottles, their nicknames are "Tomato" "Problem" and "Miracle" each with its own story. Let's deal with the Miracle wine first, as that is a ticking time bomb and may require some immediate action on your part.

How often is it that a non-winemaker has the chance to drink one week old wine? And so I thought it would be a treat to share a sample of the 2009 Tempranillo at your dinner party. We planted the vines two and a half years ago and we call them "third leaf" and this was our first harvest, 19 containers about 50 lbs. each for an estimated yield of 950 lbs. of grapes. We crushed them into a large "pick bin" and having never fermented wine in a pick bin before I was unsure how much wine would result. I had purchased an 80 gallon flex tank to store it, but when I realized that I might only get 60 gallons of juice, I went shopping for Argon gas to separate the liquid from the oxygen. Last Saturday we pressed the wine dumping bucket after bucket of young wine into the silo, watching it rise as mercury goes up the thermometer as it does these hot days. Then something strange happened. We kept pressing wine and it kept coming out and we kept dumping more into the container and I began feeling a bit like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice as the wine kept rising higher and higher and eventually it overflowed the 80 gallon tank (which is really a 78 gallon tank but it's sold as an 80 gallon tank) and we had to scramble to find more containers to put it in because I hadn't prepared any extra containers because there was only supposed to be 60 gallons, barely. When it had stopped there were 93 gallons of wine and there is only one explanation for this. A miracle. And then I remembered a lesson that was taught in church last month about the tithe and the angry prophet Malachi who said that if you give what is due the Lord then the Lord will provide and will make your harvest abundant. Is not this bounteous harvest and overflowing wine a sign of that promise to one who tithes the first fruits of the vineyard? Just thinking about it sends shivers up and down my spine. Therefore, rejoice and enjoy the Miracle Wine!

(Caution: the 2009 is still fermenting and I suggest you open it carefully because it will behave like a shaken Coke can when you open it. Don't let it sit around too long, because I wonder if the bottle might explode.)

Next, the "Problem" wine, a 2007 Merlot, made with the same techniques that we make all of our award winning wines, and yet this one has turned out to be a canard, an ugly duckling, and it threatens the friendship between me and my neighbor Merlot Mike, the grower. The problem with this wine is I don't like it. The Queen doesn't like it. And the mice don't like it. It's been aging two years and I still don't like it. Because of the wine miracle and all the other winemaking activities going on (we're taking steps to significantly increase our production this year), we're running out of space and need containers, so we decided to bottle the Merlot the morning of your party. Before bottling, I gave a sample to Bluey who gave it eight licks. Normally, four licks from the Blue-Merle is a high rating but eight licks is unheard of so I tasted some myself and as my father would say, "It's not that bad." I realized the issue with this wine is not the grapes but the winemaker who kept it in stainless steel all this time, denying it the benefits of slow, micro oxidization, which significantly slowed its aging. Therefore, when bottling, we tried something different -- we bottled putting bubbles and air and oxygen into the wine to open it up, and it seems to have worked. Since I needed to "top" our wooden barrels with wine (the angels in the garage have been sipping more than their fair portion) I decided to use some of the 2007 Merlot to top the 2008 vintages. In so doing, I have become blood-brothers in wine with Merlot Mike the grower of the Merlot and honored him by putting a little bit of him and his vineyard into all of our 2008 wines (yet to be released). I finished up the bottling and set aside one bottle for you. It's experiencing bottle shock right now, so give it a try in two months and let me know what you think.

The "Tomato" wine is a "Bluenello" wine. I'm not allowed to call it Brunello without the Italian embassy sending the polizia to our vineyard; I'm allowed to call it Sangiovese but because our place is run by the Blue-Merle we'll just call it "Bluenello", OK. It had an auspicious beginning originating from the famous vineyard in Ramona managed by Bill Schweitzer but on harvest date the Oklahoma Sooners ran out to the vineyard grabbing the best grapes so that more than half of what went into our wine were what Coyote Karen calls the "shitty" grapes damaged by mildew, bees and critters. Well it ends up that Coyote Karen made a pretty good wine and won all kinds of awards with the "Brunello" that she made but to our simple North Carolina palate it tastes like tomatoes, which is not necessarily a desirable flavor in wine. The fact that the 2007 fires came during the secondary fermentation and my reaction to being evacuated and to the catastrophe was was a post-traumatic wine syndrome where I could not bring myself to rack the wine into the barrel so it sat and became a bit oxidized, so I thought. The aging fate of this wine was similar to the Merlot mentioned above. Because the batch was small I kept it in stainless steel, a glorified beer keg, and only racked it once, and, as I realize now, it just didn't age properly. This wine was not tasting very good and we just didn't know what to do with it. But when you're running out of space and you need the containers it becomes clear what to do so we bottled it, and while bottling I bottled it aggressively and splashed it around and inserted air and had a little bit of the 2007 Merlot mentioned above leftover so threw that into the mix and when Bluey judged the Bluenello he gave it quite a few licks and I set aside one of the bottles to bring with us to your dinner on Monday.

Now as I was thoroughly stuffed, overfed and satiated by your wonderful meal on Monday, Tuesday evening it was back to normal and dinner consisted of humus dip and Syrian bread. I had set aside a glass of leftover Bluenello the day before which had 24-hours to open up. First I smelled it, and not only did it not smell that bad, the bouquet was pretty good and when I tasted it, my goodness, it tasted real good (well, it tasted good after eating all that humus). I thoroughly enjoyed the glass. Please give your bottle a couple of months to get over bottle shock and let me know what you think. One thing I've learned in winemaking is that peoples' tastes are individual and what I don't like others may love. And that's a good thing because it means there's a willing buyer out there, somewhere, for all of our wines, once we go commercial.

Bluey enjoyed your place and the company and told me that he'd like to see you again and he invites you to his domain. He's also invited Barrack and Michelle and we've been waiting for them since the inaugural balls so we're used to waiting until the fullness of time for important people to find time to humble us with a visit. Perhaps you could join us for the bottling of the 2008 vintages and we could even make an event of it and invite the Bishop to bless the wine that it may bring forth good companionship.

About that tall bottle of wine I gave your husband on the occasion of his 50th birthday, it's the 2007 Petit Verdot Plus and it's the best we ever made and let's just leave it at that. I've found that since Bluey turned 50 years old (in dog age) he's mellowed out quite nicely like a fine wine and I imagine it's the same with married men.

Yours most appreciatively,
Bluey & Craig